Coaching Log – October 23, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The first half of the season is over. Thanks to the weekend results, it looks like at least some stuff is starting to settle out. Other stuff, though, remains a bit muddled. This latter bit was helped by Angelo losing both their matches – each in 5 – on the road at the New Mexico schools. For our own part we would have preferred they won both. It would have kept things tighter in our vicinity.

Tarleton continued to roll, with wins at both the New Mexico schools, and Commerce picked up wins at West Texas and UTPB to firm up their position at #2 in the standings.

A look at the statistics tells the story of our position in the standings. Our offense has not been nearly good enough. While we’re 4th in terms of opponent hitting efficiency, we’re 10th when it comes to our own attacking. Part of the defensive side of things is that our block ranks 3rd in terms of blocks/set. We rank 5th in aces/set, but not helping our offense is that we’ve suffered more aces/set than anyone else.

Last year we managed to get into the conference tournament with 6 wins, but that was by the skin of our teeth. I suspect we need to have 7 or 8 to get in this year given how tight things are in the middle of the standings. That means we need 4 or 5 wins in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, the schedule does not help us in that regard. We have to go to the New Mexico schools, and we also have away matches at Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That’s three out of four against teams we’re battling for a place in the tournament.

On the plus side, we get Angelo and West Texas at home. Neither of them has played all that well on the road. Obviously, we must beat the two teams below us, and we get both of them at home as well.

Monday

As per usual, we started with a look back. In particular, we went over the stats for the first half of the conference season. We talked about where we need to get better (offense), and we talked about where we’ve done well (block/defense). As for serving, we talked about how we can probably get a little more aggressive. One of the observations was that our middles have the highest error % among our attackers with the exception of one. Definitely not what you want to see!

After the statistical evaluation, we took a look at video from our last match against Tuesday’s opponent. Then we spent some time looking at the things we’ve accomplished this year and the things we could yet accomplish. This was from the perspective of history – things either not done in several years or not done at all in program history.

Practice was less than 90 minutes. Our concussed setter was finally back in training. We started them off with a short game of Brazilian tennis, then moved into some pass-to-attack offense off serve reception. Worked on our attack in line with our need to get better in that facet of the game. We allowed the defending side to run middle attacks back in transition as an extension. An out-of-system game followed to continue to work in aggressive attacks in that phase. We wrapped up with a game of 5 v 5 where we played 3-up/2-back.

Tuesday

The first match of the second half of the LSC season was at Commerce. Obviously, as you can see from the standings above, they are doing well this season.Their only two conference losses were away to Texas Woman’s and away to Kingsville.

We didn’t play particularly well against them the last time out. This time was very different. In the end, it was a 3-2 loss, with a 15-13 final set, but it was probably our best collective performance of the season. We didn’t hit for a high percentage (just .154 for the match), but kept them even lower (.123). Our serve was serve was effective through most of the match. Our block continued to cause problems for opposing hitters, and our serve reception was generally solid. We actually outscored Commerce 102-100 overall, and 72-65 in terms of earned points.

So why did we lose? Well, our out-of-system hitting produced a lot of errors. Of our 28 total hitting errors, half happened while out-of-system. Given how well our defense did, we would have been well served keeping those balls in play. There were a couple of patches where they gave us trouble in serve receive.

Beyond that, though, it just came down to timing. We missed a really poor serve into the net at 7-7 in the 5th. At 9-8 our freshman middle hit a quick just inches wide. Even after that, we came back from 11-8 to take a 13-12 lead. After Commerce sided-out, though, our senior DS, who otherwise passed well on the night, had a serve go right through her hands to set up match point.

Wednesday

The head coach had to be away from campus at that time, so I got to attend the bi-weekly (I think) athletic luncheon in her place. Basically, it’s a group of the older supporters of MSU Athletics getting an update on things from each of the in-season sports. I told them about our recent performances and what we were looking forward to for the upcoming weekend.

We watched some video before practice as part of our prep for Friday. The first part was looking back on our first time playing West Texas. The second was looking at their match from Tuesday night.

Practice itself focused on out-of-system attacking. We did three main activities. The first was a repeat of the pass-to-attack vs. a defense type work we’ve done a lot of lately. From there we moved on to a continuous 3-up/2-back game. The ball was initiated at the setter to force an out-of-system first attack. From there the rallies proceeded normally. Lastly, we played 6 v 6 with bonus points for out-of-system kills.

While we definitely worked on necessary things, the concentration could have been better. But for the day after a tight 5-set match on the road, it wasn’t horrible.

Thursday

Out-of-system attacking continued to be the big theme. After warming up with a spirited game of Brazilian tennis, we got right into it. The first drill was a dig-set-attack exercise. A ball was initiated at a wing defender. The dig was then set to one of the pins by the other wing defender, and was attacked from there. An elastic was run between the antennae to encourage the hitters to swing high.

We followed with a repeat of the 3-up/2-back game from Wednesday. After a few rounds of serve receive to attack, when then played 22 v 22 to finish up. To keep working on out-of-system hitting, we initiated the second ball to the winning side’s setter.

All in all we were pretty happy with how things went. We saw some strong swings.

After practice the team did some community service time at a local middle school. We then had Homecoming activities in the evening.

Friday

We hosted a tri-match this day. The first was the return match against West Texas. They came in at 7-5 in conference after beating Eastern NM earlier in the week.

We finally broke the streak! MSU had not won against WT in 34 tries before this match. Not only did we win, we won 3-0 in convincing fashion. Our offense wasn’t stellar (.175), but we did the business in serve and defense. We tallied 8 aces and they only hit .082.

Our second match of the day was against Newman, from the Heartland Conference. They were picked 4th in the pre-season voting after finishing 2016 tied for 3rd. They played West Texas before playing us. The result was a 3-0 loss without much challenge after the first set. That followed a loss Thursday night at Lubbock Christian (making them 3-4 in conference).

Unfortunately, we did not quite repeat WT’s earlier performance. We struggled mentally. The result was some not so great play – poor decisions, failing to make adjustments quickly enough, etc. To their credit, Newman fought us hard and gave us fits defensively. They hit .236 for the match. Fortunately, we hit .291. Our middles both hit near .400. The final result was a 3-1 win, but it was really tight until the fourth set.

The Newman win put up to 7 non-conference victories for the year. That’s better than the 6 we got last season. It’s also the most since 2013, and the first time since then that we’ll having a winning non-LSC record.

Saturday

We played UTPB for the second time. They lost a 5-setter to Western NM on Wednesday. They also lost a 5-setter at Cameron on Friday night.

In the early stages we had our struggles. UTPB has a couple of powerful attackers and it took us a while to come to grips with them. I mean that both in terms of choking off their opportunities through serving pressure and in our blocking. In the end we won comfortably, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Offensively, we did OK. Our hitting efficiency was just below .200. Our servers tallied 7 aces and our block got 9 stuffs That contributed to UTPB only hitting .061. Interestingly, our big OPP got no blocks. They basically set away from her. Our OHs put in a pretty good performance there, though, taking part in 5 blocks on that side of the net.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman

John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women’s team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women’s professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women’s Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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